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Pregnant mum's lifestyle could harm son's sperm

Women who smoke or are heavily overweight during pregnancy may cause their son to have a low sperm count later in life, scientists warn

Posted: 19 April 2010
by Clio FitzHerbert

Mum-to-be's lifestyle could impact on their own son's chance of having children

A mum’s lifestyle could impact more on a man’s fertility than his own lifestyle in adulthood, new research suggests.

Mums-to-be who smoke, or are heavily overweight, can disrupt their unborn baby’s natural development and cause reduced sperm counts in their children, according to a review carried out by Professor Richard Sharpe, one of Britain’s leading reproductive biologists.

The study found that smoking and exposure to pesticides and traffic pollution cause more harm in the first weeks of life inside the womb, than any lifestyle effects after the child is born. While damage done in adult life can sometimes be undone by beating bad habits, there is concern that damage in the womb might be permanent, Professor Sharpe highlighted.

Professor Sharpe of Edinburgh University looked at global studies on how factors, such as smoking, obesity and exposure to chemicals, affect male fertility. One study on a major chemical leak from an Italian factory revealed no effect on sperm counts of adults, but showed that babies in the womb grew up to have lower-than-expected sperm counts.

“This review reminds us that the sperm production capacity of men is probably established quite early in life and perhaps even before they are born,” Dr Allan Pacey, an expert in male fertility from Sheffield University, told the Daily Mail. “This highlights the importance of women having healthy pregnancies and not exposing their baby to harmful chemicals, such as cigarette smoke.”

It’s thought that as many as one in five men in the UK have low sperm counts.

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